SUZUKA, Japan – Red Bull’s Mark Webber upstaged his title-seeking teammate Sebastian Vettel Saturday as he snatched his first pole position of the season in a masterful qualifying drive for the Japanese Grand Prix.
With all eyes on Vettel, who may be able to land his fourth successive world title in Sunday’s race, the soon-to-retire Australian lapped 1min 30.915secs to push Vettel into second.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton will start behind the Red Bulls on the second row alongside Lotus’s Romain Grosjean, with Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg on the third row.
Nico Hulkenberg timed seventh, just ahead of Fernando Alonso. If Vettel wins on Sunday, the Ferrari man will need to finish inside the top eight to keep the title race alive.
Webber’s rivalry with Vettel reached boiling point earlier this season when the German ignored team orders and overtook his stablemate to win the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Australian later announced he was quitting Formula One at the end of the season. But he said pole position was a sweet farewell to Suzuka, despite admitting he’d been helped by a KERS problem plaguing Vettel.
“Sebastian had a problem so it’s a little bit of a hollow pole,” Webber told reporters. “But you take them where you can get them. It’s not like they hand them out.
“We did the laps when they counted and that’s what was important. It’s a very, very nice farewell pole here on my last attempt at Suzuka on a really phenomenal circuit.”
Vettel refused to blame his mechanical problem for missing out on what would have been his fifth straight pole position in Japan and his fourth in a row this season.
“I had a problem with the KERS system but it’s not my style to make excuses,” said Vettel. “Congratulations to Mark.”
Webber had also proved quickest in the morning’s final free practice in a session halted by a red flag after Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso burst into flames at the rear end due to overheating brakes.
Before him, there was early drama as Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber caught fire after being rolled back into the garage with the driver still in his seat.
The rampaging Vettel has a massive 77-point lead with only 125 available from the last five races after winning in South Korea last weekend, and is set to become